The three essential elements that all great workplaces have.
You might have several theories about what makes an organization a positive place to work.
Happy employees are surely those with inflated paychecks and unmatched benefit programs. Perhaps they get a share of company profits in employee stock ownership plans, or have ditched traditional hierarchy for a more equitable “flat” structure.
You’d be wrong.
The employee experience isn’t fundamentally determined by whether a company is privately owned or publicly traded, whether its workers are hourly or salaried, or whether a company writes software in Silicon Valley or manufactures automobiles in Michigan.
The key ingredient is deceptively simple: trust. Do your workers trust you?
Discovering the magic ingredient was the result of thousands of hours of interviews and focus groups conducted by the founders of Great Place To Work® in developing its Trust Index™.
“For pretty much every theory we had, we found consistent exceptions,” says Sarah Lewis-Kulin, vice president of global recognition at Great Place To Work. “What we didn’t find an exception for was trust.”
What builds trust in the workplace?
Trust can feel like a squishy word, even as it becomes more and more recognized as an essential business asset. Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer shows the way trust in institutions like the media and government can have profound implications for markets.
But what does it mean for employees to experience trust? Telling them to trust you doesn’t work. You have to build a high-trust culture over time.
According to Great Place To Work research, such a culture is built on three components:
- Credibility. Do workers believe leaders are competent, communicative, and honest?
- Respect. Do workers feel respected both as professionals and individuals with lives outside of work?
- Fairness. Do workers see the organization as a place where everyone has a fair chance to succeed?
Underpinning these ingredients is a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging. Without a welcoming, inclusive, and equitable culture, trust is quickly lost.
“What we’re really talking about is that everyone in the organization is treated with credibility, respect, and fairness … regardless of their job role, their gender, any race, ethnicity, or other demographic category,” says Lewis-Kulin.
For a workplace to be great, the employee experience has to be consistent for everyone. If only senior-level, male managers say they trust the organization while front-line employees or women in management are having a very different experience, that won’t build trust.
That’s why Great Place To Work introduced its For All™ model, where gaps between different employee groups are measured to identify how every employee feels at work — not just the majority.
The building blocks of trust
How do great leaders cultivate credibility, respect, and fairness within their companies? It’s crucial to close the Say-Do gap, as trust only develops when words are followed by action.
For any culture to develop high levels of trust, it has to start with leaders.
“You can’t create a trusting organization without it being modeled as a value from the top of the organization,” Lewis-Kulin says. Otherwise, you might have a pocket of employees who trust each other, but they get their backs up when working with people outside their team.
Machiavelli might approve, but it’s no recipe for success in the modern workplace.
Here are some ways for leaders to start building trust:
- Communicate consistently and directly.
- Ensure your public actions mirror the values you subscribe to internally. If your PR team, for instance, publicly proclaims that your company champions DEIB, but employees aren’t experiencing an inclusive culture, they’ll view your actions as hypocritical.
- Demand that public value statements match the internal experience of employees.
- Make sure that communication goes both ways— listen to your people as much as you share information with them.
- Take tangible actions every time you ask and receive employee feedback.
- Create a culture that supports employees’ work-life balance, allows them to use PTO and flexible schedules offered, and acknowledges their lives outside of work. And don’t forget to set a good example yourself.
- Show genuine interest in who your people are and what matters to them outside of work.
- Show appreciation for employees’ good work and extra effort.
- Provide development and training programs, give employees time to do them, and reward employees who complete them.
- Ensure everyone can bring their full selves to the workplace by focusing on belonging and inclusion.
- Review compensation and close any pay gaps for employees doing equal work.
- Add seats to the board of directors to ensure marginalized voices are heard.
- Analyze workplace well-being programs to ensure they serve the needs of all employees.
The business case for trust
The good news for leaders is that building trust has an unmistakable impact on financial performance for organizations across industries.
According to independent investment firm FTSE Russell, cumulative stock market returns outpace the market by a factor of three for publicly held organizations on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® list.
The data is clear: Companies that invest in their workers deliver stronger financial results over the long term. Even better, those companies have the resilience to ride out economic downturns. Great Place To Work research shows that companies that supported key employee groups were able to grow during the Great Recession from 2008 to 2010, and have vastly outstripped the competition in the decade since.
The outcomes of employee trust on the bottom line are undeniable:
- High-trust cultures have half the attrition turnover of industry competitors.
- High-trust cultures have accelerated rates of innovation.
- High-trust cultures see more employees go above and beyond to deliver for clients and customers.
Get started with trust
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Ted Kitterman is a content manager for Great Place to Work®. Ted has experience covering the workplace, business communications, public relations, internal communications, work culture, employee well-being, brand purpose and more. His work shines a light on the unparalleled data and insights offered by Great Place to Work’s decades of research, helping the company share its vision of a great place to work For All™.